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Abu Ghraib prison
Abu Ghraib cell block.jpg
Abu Ghraib cell block.jpg
Abu Ghraib prison cell block in 2005
Former names Abu Ghraib prison
General information
Status Defunct
Location Abu Ghraib, Baghdad Province
Coordinates 33°17′30″N 44°3′56″E / 33.29167°N 44.06556°E / 33.29167; 44.06556Coordinates: 33°17′30″N 44°3′56″E / 33.29167°N 44.06556°E / 33.29167; 44.06556
Other information
Seating capacity 15,000

The Baghdad Central Prison, formerly known[1] as Abu Ghraib prison (Arabic language: سجن أبو غريبSijn Abū Ghurayb; also Abu Ghuraib, lit. 'Father of Raven', or 'Place of Ravens'[2]) was a prison complex in Abu Ghraib, an Iraqi city 32 km (20 mi) west of Baghdad. After years of shared use by United States-led forces and the Iraqi government beginning in 2003 after the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. transferred complete control of the prison to the Iraqi government in 2006 and Iraq closed it down in 2014.


The prison was built by British contractors in the 1950s. The prison held as many as 15,000 inmates in 2001.[citation needed] In 2002, Saddam Hussein's government began an expansion project to add six new cellblocks to the prison.[3] In October 2002, he gave amnesty to most prisoners in Iraq. After the prisoners were released and the prison was left empty, it was vandalized and looted. Almost all of the documents relating to prisoners were piled and burnt inside of prison offices and cells, leading to extensive structural damage.

Known mass-graves related to Abu Ghraib include:

  • Khan Dhari, west of Baghdad - Mass grave with the bodies of political prisoners from Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. Fifteen victims were executed on 26 December 1998 and buried by prison authorities under the cover of darkness.[citation needed]
  • Al-Zahedi, on the western outskirts of Baghdad - Secret graves near a civilian cemetery contain the remains of nearly 1,000 political prisoners. According to an eyewitness, 10 to 15 bodies arrived at a time from the Abu Ghraib prison and were buried by local civilians. An execution on 10 December 1999 in Abu Ghraib claimed the lives of 101 people in one day. On 9 March 2000, 58 prisoners were killed at a time. The last corpse interred was number 993.[4]


Map of the prison

File:Abu Gharyab Prison.jpg

Front gate of the prison seen from the highway in March 2004

Until August 2006, the site known as the Abu Ghraib prison was used for detention purposes by both the U.S.-led coalition occupying Iraq and the Iraqi government. The Iraqi government has controlled the area of the facility known as "The Hard Site". The prison was used to house only convicted criminals. Suspected criminals, insurgents or those arrested and awaiting trial were held at other facilities, commonly known as "camps" in U.S. military parlance. The U.S. housed all its detainees at "Camp Redemption", which is divided into five security levels. This camp built in the summer of 2004 replaced the three-level setup of Camp Ganci, Camp Vigilant and Abu Ghraib's Tier 1. The remainder of the facility was occupied by the U.S. military.[citation needed]

Abu Ghraib served as both a FOB (Forward Operating Base) and a detention facility. When the U.S. military was using the Abu Ghraib prison as a detention facility, it housed approximately 7,490 prisoners there in March 2004.[5] Later population of detainees was much smaller, because Camp Redemption had a much smaller capacity than Camp Ganci had, and many detainees have been sent from Abu Ghraib to Camp Bucca for this reason. The U.S. military initially held all "persons of interest" in Camp Redemption. Some were suspected rebels, and some suspected criminals. Those convicted by trial in Iraqi court are transferred to the Iraqi-run Hard Site.[citation needed]

Picture of Satar Jabar, one of the prisoners subjected to torture and abuse by U.S. guards at Abu Ghraib

In the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal, reserve soldiers from the 320th Military Police battalion were charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice with prisoner abuse, beginning with an Army Criminal Investigation Division investigation on January 14, 2004. In April 2004, U.S. television news-magazine 60 Minutes reported on a story from the magazine The New Yorker, which recounted torture and humiliation of Iraqi detainees by U.S. soldiers and contracted civilians. The story included photographs' depicting the abuse of prisoners. The events created a substantial political scandal within the U.S. and other coalition countries.

On April 20, 2004, insurgents fired 40 mortar rounds into the prison, killing 24 detainees and injuring 92. Commentators thought the attack was either as an attempt to incite a riot or retribution for detainees' cooperating with the United States.[6] In May 2004, the U.S.-led coalition embarked on a prisoner-release policy to reduce numbers to fewer than 2,000.[citation needed] The U.S. military released nearly 1,000 detainees at the prison during the week ending August 27, 2005, at the request of the Iraqi government.[7] In a May 24, 2004 address at the U.S. Army War College, President George W. Bush announced that the prison would be demolished. On June 14 Iraqi interim President Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer said he opposed this decision, followed by the ruling June 21 by U.S. military judge Col. James Pohl, who said that the prison was a crime scene and could not be demolished until investigations and trials were completed.[citation needed]

On April 2, 2005, the prison was attacked by more than 60 insurgents in the engagement known as the Battle of Abu Ghraib. In the two hours before being forced to retreat, the attackers suffered at least 50 casualties according to the U.S. military. Thirty-six persons at or in the prison, including U.S. military personnel, civilians and detainees, were injured in the attack. The attackers used small arms, rockets, and RPGs as weapons, and threw grenades over the walls. A suicide VBIED detonated just outside the front wall after Marines fired on it. Officials believe that the car bomb was intended to breach the prison wall, enabling an assault and/or mass escape for detainees. Insurgents also attacked military forces nearby on highways en route to the prison for reinforcement and used ambushes along the roads. Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility.[8]


In March 2006, the U.S. military decided to transfer the 4,500 inmates to other prisons and transfer control of the Abu Ghraib prison to Iraqi authorities.[9] The prison was reported emptied of prisoners in August 2006.[10] The formal transfer was made on September 2, 2006. The formal transfer was conducted between Major General Jack Gardner, Commander of Task Force 134, and representatives of the Iraqi Ministry of Justice and the Iraqi Army.[11]

In February 2009, Iraq reopened Abu Ghraib under the new name of Baghdad Central Prison. It was designed to house 3,500 inmates. The government said it planned to increase the number up to 15,000 prisoners by the end of the year.[12]

A major prison break occurred on 21 July 2013, and media outlets reported a mass breakout of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Reportedly, at least 500 prisoners escaped. A senior member of the security and defense committee in parliament described the prisoners as mostly those who were "convicted senior members of al-Qaeda and had received death sentences."[13][14] A simultaneous attack occurred at another prison, in Taji, around 12 miles north of Baghdad, where 16 members of the Iraqi security forces and six militants were killed.[14] The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) issued a statement on a jihadist forum claiming that they were responsible for organising and executing the prison break, which had taken months of preparation,[13] and claimed that the attacks involved 12 car bombs, suicide bombers and a barrage of mortars and rockets.[13] They also claimed that they killed more than 120 government troops, though the Iraqi authorities claimed that 25 members of the security forces were killed, along with 21 prisoners and at least 10 militants.[13]


On April 15, 2014 the Iraqi Justice Ministry announced that it had closed the prison amid fear that it could be taken over by Sunni insurgents that control much of Anbar Province. All 2,400 inmates were moved to other high-security facilities in around the country. It was not made clear if the closure is temporary or permanent.[15]

Notable detainees

See also

  • Human rights in Saddam's Iraq
  • Human rights in post-Saddam Iraq

External links

  • The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair, a documentary about the imprisonment and abuse of one Iraqi journalist, Yunis Khatayer Abbas, and his two brothers at Abu Ghraib prison.
  • Standard Operating Procedure (film)


  1. US releases scores from Baghdad prison, Google News / Agence France-Presse, February 12, 2009
  2. Abu Ghrai translation
  3. "Abu Ghurayb Prison". Global Security. 2005. Archived from the original on 8 March 2006. Retrieved 2006-03-11. 
  4. Archaeologists for Human Rights
  5. General (Dept. of the Army), Inspector (2004). Detainee Operations Inspection. DIANE Publishing. pp. 23–24. ISBN 1-4289-1031-X. 
  6. "22 killed in Baghdad mortar attack". USA Today. April 20, 2004. Retrieved 2006-03-11. 
  7. "Nearly 1,000 Abu Ghraib detainees released". 2005. Archived from the original on 2 March 2006. Retrieved 2006-03-11. 
  8. Defend America (2005-04-13). "Marines Relate Events of Abu Ghraib Attack". 
  9. "US to transfer Abu Ghraib prisoners". Fairfax Digital. 2006-03-10. Retrieved 2008-06-30. "Abu Ghraib prison[...]'s 4,500 inmates will be transferred to a new facility at the nearby Baghdad airport military base and other camps. [...] Abu Ghraib, where US soldiers abused Iraqi detainees, will be handed over to Iraqi authorities once the prisoner transfer to Camp Cropper and other US military prisons in the country is finished." 
  10. Nancy A. Youssef, "Abu Ghraib no longer houses any prisoners, Iraqi officials say", McClatchy Newspapers, 26 Aug 2006
  11. Associated Press (2006-09-03). "Inmates transferred out of Abu Ghraib as coalition hands off control". The Boston Globe. 
  12. Associated Press (2009-01-25). "Abu Ghraib set to reopen as Baghdad Central Prison". 
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 "Abu Ghraib Prison Break:Al Qaeda in Iraq Claims Responsibility for Raid". The Huffington Post. 2013-07-23. Retrieved 24 July 2013. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 "Iraq:hundreds escape from Abu Ghraib jail". London: 2013-07-22. Retrieved 24 July 2013. 
  16. Leader (18 March 1990). "Farzad Bazoft". London. Retrieved 3 September 2011. 
  17. Tucker, Michael (2007-02-20). "My Prisoner, My Brother". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2008-06-11. 
  18. Risling, Greg (May 7, 2008). "Iraqi alleges Abu Ghraib torture, sues US contractors". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2010-02-11. 
  19. Hettena, Seth (17 February 2005). "Reports detail Abu Ghraib prison death; was it torture?". Retrieved 23 June 2009. 
  20. "Source: al Qaeda leader urged affiliate to 'do something'". CNN. 5 August 2013. Retrieved 21 October 2014. 

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